AG says Parliament won’t be exempted from safe zone policy

Unvaccinated parliamentarians, including Senators and Members of Parliament, will eventually be impacted by the Government’s enforcement of vaccines for all State employees even though Parliament is not designated as a safe zone yet.

This is according to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who hosted a media conference yesterday to update the public on the Government’s new policy of vaccines for all public servants, during which he was asked about the status of Parliament.

He said the Parliament would not be “an exception”.

“The entire Government of T&T, every single senator and every single Member of Parliament in the House have publicly declared that we have all been vaccinated. Where we don’t have parity is with the Opposition and therefore the Parliament, quite interestingly, does not stand as a safe zone,” he said.

“We are required to not do as people do in a restaurant, not do as they do in a bar. It’s odd that (Opposition Leader) Mrs Persad-Bissessar would take the view of not allowing Parliament to be a safe zone,” he said.

Parliament, the AG said, had “certain privileges which were unique”.

“Therefore the particulars of the law as it relates to Parliament will be a factor that we would work out in the final detail but it, certainly, the intention that this law applies to it,” he said.

“The Parliament is not intended to be an exception to this rule,” he said.

The law, the AG said, could not be discriminatory.

Al-Rawi said that while Government spaces would be designated as safe zones for only vaccinated employees, unvaccinated members of the public could still access public sector services.

“The reason is that we can control the crowds,” he said.

“We can control the access to premises, via online attendance, via appointment attendance, via spacing etc, it is not, at this stage, on the table that the patrons or persons accessing the services are to be vaccinated. Similar to supermarkets etc,” he said.

When asked whether the Government will have to pull back if 50 per cent of the Police Service does not get vaccinated, the AG said that there are no exceptions to the vaccine policy rule.

“That would be contrary to the international framework that exists,” he said.

The AG said that he wrote to all groups within the protective services, including fire, police and prisons.

“The virus makes no exception,” he said.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister said that those unvaccinated public sector employees who cannot enter the buildings to work will be furloughed and yesterday the AG said that people cannot be furloughed indefinitely.

“There is an end to that in law because you cannot be furloughed indefinitely. Furloughing comes to an end and comes to a form of abandonment or dismissal. So there are consequences to indefinite furlough,” he said.

On the issue of whether the vaccines were not being considered “mandatory”, the AG said people will always be presented with a choice.

“Because you have a choice between accepting the recommendations in the policy of being vaccinated, your choice is you can receive the vaccine or not receive the vaccine. If you don’t receive the vaccine and you have your deferral certificates and you present yourself for PCR testing every two weeks… that does not resemble a mandatory vaccination,” he said, citing a recent judgement about the same issue coming out of Canada.

“This is where the unions and the many people come in because how we tailor-make the exemptions are critically important,” he said.

The Joint Trade Union Movement has been up in arms and will be protesting today against the Government’s decision to change all Government workplaces to safe zone only accessible to vaccinated workers.

Al-Rawi said he has written to all the relevant stakeholders to request an urgent meeting, which is scheduled to also take place today.

“I have made myself available on any given day,” he said.

He has received two responses for far, he said but has written several trade unions including the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions’ (FITUN’s) David Abdullah, the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union’s (SWWTU’s) Michael Annisette, and Oilfield Workers Trade Union’s (OWTU’s) President General Ancel Roget.

Al-Rawi said he received responses from the OWTU confirming receipt of his email and said that the union said it was discussing the possible meeting within its ranks.

THA update

Meanwhile, the matter between the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and the AG is docketed for January.

The AG pointed out that both Duke and THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine are being represented by two lawyers who have done work for the United National Congress in the past.

“Quite interestingly, attorneys appearing for Mr Watson Duke in the person of Mr Anand Ramlogan, SC,” he said adding that Ramlogan was “well-known to us”.

The AG said the lawyers representing Duke were “habitually before the court representing the Opposition.”

Augustine, he said, was being represented by Kiel Tacklalsingh.

“Again a well-known southern lawyer, from South Trinidad who is no stranger to us, representing many matters brought by the Opposition,” he said.

“I urge the understanding that there comes a time when we have to respectfully consider what is in the best interest of the nation,” Al-Rawi said.

“Doors are not closed. The opportunity to have constructive criticism is before us,” he said.

Last week the AG challenged Duke’s appointment as deputy chief secretary of the THA in court. He noted that Duke was serving as head of the PSA and a member of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board (RRCB).

In that claim, Al-Rawi said that Duke still receives remuneration from both bodies. One of the requirements of the THA executive is that no member must receive any payments from any external sources.

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